Chapter 16 - Committees

Selection of Bills Committee

The Selection of Bills Committee, which is established by standing order 24A, makes recommendations to the Senate for the referral of bills to committees. The committee considers bills introduced into the Senate or received from the House of Representatives and reports to the Senate on whether any bills should be referred to legislative and general purpose standing or select committees.

Membership of the committee is based on an informal committee of party whips which meets each sitting day to confer on the day’s program. The committee consists of the Government Whip and two other senators nominated by the Leader of the Government, the Opposition Whip and two other senators nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, together with the whips of any minority groups. The chair of the committee is the Government Whip who may from time to time appoint a deputy chair to act as chair when the chair is not present at a meeting. The chair, or deputy chair when acting as chair, has a casting vote when the votes are equally divided.

The standing order establishing the committee does not contain any criteria which the committee is required to follow in making recommendations in relation to bills. This allows the committee to take into account any grounds advanced by senators for the submission of bills to committee scrutiny.

Although few of the committee’s reports have indicated the basis on which the committee has made its recommendations, the committee has commented on particular referrals and given reasons why a decision has been made or changed. In its 4th report of 1990, for example, the committee indicated that there was a difference of views about which standing committee a package of social welfare bills should be referred to. Although the committee recommended that the bills be referred to the Community Affairs Committee, an amendment was moved to the motion that the report be adopted, which would have had the effect of referring parts of one of the bills to two different committees. The President ruled on a point of order that a bill could be referred to more than one committee because, although the order of the Senate referred to bills being referred to “a committee”, as a matter of interpretation the singular number is taken to include the plural. The amendment was then agreed to (11/10/1990, J.322). In its 6th report of 1990, the committee indicated that its decisions not to refer two bills to committees as proposed by the Opposition and Australian Democrats, respectively, had been taken by a majority. One of these recommendations was subsequently overturned by an amendment to the motion that the report be adopted (17/10/1990, J.351). The committee reviewed an earlier recommendation not to refer a bill in light of comments on the bill by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee (7th report of 1990, 8/11/1990, J.397). The committee now reserves disagreements for resolution by the Senate (2nd report of 2002, 20/3/2002, J.240). The committee has also reviewed recommendations not to refer bills on other grounds, including the circulation of a large number of government amendments to a bill (1st report of 1991, 14/2/1991, J.747) and representations by individual senators (3rd report of 1992, 26/3/1992, J.2124; 9th report of 2004, 23/6/2004, J.3651). The committee has also reviewed its recommendations on the timing of referrals in view of the demands of a heavy legislative program (9th report of 1990, 28/11/1990, J.487).

In practice the committee recommends the referral of a bill if a significant group in the Senate ask for the bill to be referred. Amendments to motions to adopt the committee’s reports, however, are still relatively common.

The committee is required to examine all bills received from the House of Representatives or introduced into the Senate, except for bills containing no provisions other than provisions appropriating money, and, in respect of each bill, recommend whether it should be referred to a legislative and general purpose standing committee. The committee may also refer bills to appropriate select committees. When the committee decides that a bill should be referred to a committee, it is required to recommend which committee should receive the bill, the stage at which it should be referred and the date on which that committee should report.

(See Supplement)

The committee’s reports are presented after the giving of notices of motion, or at other times by leave. Amendments may be moved to the motion that the report of the committee be adopted and these may include amendments to refer additional bills to committees. Debate on the reports is limited to 30 minutes with a 5 minute limit on individual contributions.

The committee recommends the referral to committees of approximately 35 percent of all bills considered by the Senate.

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